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Kassir, Samir (1960–2005) - PERSONAL HISTORY, BIOGRAPHICAL HIGHLIGHTS, PERSONAL CHRONOLOGY:, INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS, THE WORLD’S PERSPECTIVE, LEGACY, CONTEMPORARIES

lebanese political lebanon beirut

Samir Kassir (also Qasir), a Lebanese historian and journalist who defended in his articles, books, lectures, and political activism, the causes of democracy, independence, and “renaissance” in Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and the Arab world, was assassinated in Beirut on 2 June 2005.

PERSONAL HISTORY

Kassir was born in Beirut on 4 May 1960 to a Lebanese Palestinian father and a Lebanese Syrian mother. He came from a Greek Orthodox family, but was not religious himself. He grew up in Ashrafiyya on the eastern side of the Lebanese capital and studied in the Lycée Français, before moving to Paris in 1981, six years after the Lebanese Civil War started. There he received a D.E.A. (master’s) degree in philosophy and political philosophy in 1984 from the Université de Paris (Sorbonne) I, and a Ph.D. in modern history from the Université de Paris IV in 1990.

While in Paris, Kassir wrote for several dailies, weeklies, and other periodicals including the pan-Arab London-based al-Hayat , the French Le Monde diplomatique , and the Beirut-based L’Orient le jour . He also contributed to al-Yawm al-Sabi (The Seventh Day) and wrote regularly for the Revue d’Études Palestiniennes (the French-language edition of the Journal of Palestine Studies ), both strong voices defending the Palestinian cause from a secular and progressive point of view.

In 1992, Kassir coauthored with his friend, the Syrian historian and publisher Farouk Mardam-Bey, the book Itinéraires de Paris à Jerusalem: la France et le conflit Israélo-Arabe (Itineraries from Paris to Jerusalem: France and the Arab-Israeli conflict), a historical account in two volumes of France’s policies in the Levant, including its position toward the Nakba (Catastrophe) of Palestinian dispossession in 1948 and the Arab-Israeli conflict following it.

He returned in 1993 to Beirut, joined the Department of Political Studies at the Saint Joseph University as a lecturer, and became the director of Dar al-Nahar (a leading Lebanese publishing house), writing at the same time editorials in its daily newspaper al-Nahar . In 1994, he published his second book in French, based on his Ph.D. thesis, La guerre du Liban: de la dissension nationale au conflit régional, 1975–1982 (The Lebanese war: from national dissension to regional conflict, 1975–1982), a study of the causes of the civil war that ravaged the country from 1975 to 1990, and the political dynamics that developed through its early phases.

In 1995, he launched a monthly francophone review, L’Orient express , that rapidly became the most important monthly political and cultural review in Lebanon, until early 1998 when the review was shut down for financial reasons. In the same year, Kassir founded a publishing house, al-Layali, specializing in artistic and cultural work. In 2002 he reproduced posters representing Middle Eastern cities with mandate-era illustrations. He also reproduced posters celebrating love and freedom in the Egyptian cinema industry of the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1999, 2000, and 2001 Kassir published weekly editorials in An Nahar against the Syrian regime and the rule of Lebanese president EMILE LAHOUD , a former army general, and the security apparatus he was putting in place. These led Jamil al-Sayyid, director of the government’s police force, the sûreté générale , and the strongman of the regime, to personally threaten him by phone before sending cars filled with thugs to follow him around for weeks, and to have his passport confiscated at the Beirut international airport.

BIOGRAPHICAL HIGHLIGHTS

Name: Samir Kassir (Qasir)

Birth: 1960, Beirut, Lebanon

Death: 2005, Beirut, Lebanon

Family: Wife, Gisele Khoury (m. 2004); two daughters from an earlier marriage, Mayssa and Eliana

Nationality: Lebanese

Education: Lycée Français, Beirut; D.E.A., philosophy and political philosophy, Université de Paris I, 1984; Ph.D., modern history, Université de Paris IV, 1990

PERSONAL CHRONOLOGY:

  • 1980s: Establishes career as historical and political writer in prominent Lebanese, Palestinian, and French newspapers and journals
  • 1993: Returns to Lebanon; begins work as editorialist, An Nahar newspaper; founds L’Orient express journal; begins teaching, Saint Joseph University; publishes Itinéraires de Paris à Jérusalem
  • 1994: Publishes La guerre du Liban
  • 2003: Publishes Histoire de Beyrouth
  • 2004: Publishes Considérations sur le malheur arabe; Dimuqratiyyat Suriya wa Istiqlal Lubnan (Syria’s democracy and Lebanon’s independence); Askar ala Man? (Military against whom?); founding member of Democratic Left Movement
  • 2005: Assassinated in Beirut, 2 June

In 2003, Kassir released his third book in French, Histoire de Beyrouth (History of Beirut), in which he traced the history of the city, its families, its politics, culture, and economy, its urban and social development, and its relations with the rest of the country and the region. In 2004, he published two books in Arabic: with an introduction by UMAR AMIRALAY , Dimuqratiyyat Suriya wa Istiqlal Lubnan (Syria’s democracy and Lebanon’s independence), and with an introduction by GHASSAN JIBRAN TOUENI , Askar ala Man? (Military against whom?). Also in 2004, he published a new book in French, Considérations sur le malheur arabe (published in English in 2006 as Being Arab ), analyzing the reasons behind the abortion of the nineteenth-century Arab “reawakening,” emphasizing that “decadence” is not the fate of the Arabs, and that their misery is the outcome more of their geography than of their history.

INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS

During the same year, 2004, Kassir contributed (along with ELIAS KHOURY and this author) to the foundation of the Lebanese Democratic Left Movement and was elected to its leading political committee. The movement’s political platform calls for democracy, social justice and secularism. His editorials in An Nahar , interventions and lectures in conferences and media, became a source of inspiration for the movement and for the political uprising that started in Lebanon against the Syrian hegemony after the assassination of the Lebanese Prime Minister RAFIQ HARIRI on 14 February 2005.

The term intifadat al-istiqlal (independence uprising), used by the opposition to designate the huge popular mobilization and demonstrations at that time, was Kassir’s suggestion. (The movement called for the end of the presence and intervention in Lebanon of the Syrian army and intelligence apparatus, the resignation of the generals heading the Lebanese security agencies, and an international investigation into the assassination of Hariri.) Kassir wanted to emphasize two “values”: a Lebanese national value (independence), and an Arab value inspired by the first Palestinian intifada in 1987 against the Israeli occupation.

Throughout the period between 14 February and 1 June 2005, Kassir was at the same time the voice of the intifada in his articles, and an activist in the field daily, discussing discourses and tactics with politicians and students. He realized that a reform project tackling political, economic, and social structures in Lebanon is a must to preserve the national independence and called on his friends and comrades to elaborate such a project. He remained, regardless of the mounting aggressive feelings among some in Lebanon toward Syrians, loyal to his democratic values and opposed to all generalizations that do not distinguish between the Syrian regime and the Syrian people.

On Thursday 2 June 2005, Kassir unlocked his Alfa Romeo, parked in front of his apartment building in Beirut, on his way to An Nahar . As he stepped into the car, a bomb exploded under his seat, killing him instantly. He left behind his wife, prominent television presenter Gisele Khoury, and two daughters from an earlier marriage.

THE WORLD’S PERSPECTIVE

Kassir’s assassination provoked outrage in Lebanon and around the world. While his supporters held candlelight vigils and demonstrations in tribute to their lost inspiration in Beirut, Paris, Washington, D.C., and Ramallah, the United Nations Security Council convened, in a surprising step, to condemn his killing.

LEGACY

Kassir’s family and comrades have vowed to keep his memory alive and to follow his pursuit of democracy and independence. A foundation carrying his name was created by his wife and friends, and an annual Samir Kassir Prize for Freedom of the Press is offered by the European Union’s Commission to Lebanon to a young Middle Eastern journalist or researcher.

CONTEMPORARIES

A prominent television journalist, Gisele Khoury (1961–) has been presenting talk shows for more than twenty years. Her career started in 1995 at the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC) when she presented variety programs, hosting cultural, artistic, and social figures from Lebanon and the Arab world. In 1996 she started a political-cultural show, Hiwar al-Umr (A life dialogue), hosting important Lebanese, Arab, and international figures. The show was broadcast both nationally and internationally, and became one of the most important Arab talk shows, presenting both political and cultural dialogue and intimate and spontaneous discussions with guests. In 2002, Khoury moved to the newly inaugurated pan-Arab satellite channel al-Arabiyya. Her program there, Bi’l-Arabi (In Arabic), on which she hosted leaders and celebrities from around the world, was a success and offered her the opportunity of getting more deeply into regional and international issues.

Khoury’s life crossed Samir Kassir’s in mid-1990s, and they married in 2004. Since Kassir’s assassination in June 2005, Khoury has been working for his causes and principles. Today she heads a foundation named for Kassir, and organizes yearly events to commemorate his memory.

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